Spacer vs The Orchestra | The Spitz, London

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Spilling off the Spitz stage in all directions, Tuesday's match notched up another score in the relentless advance of dance music. In the middle, with the screens and controls, stood Spacer, the producer Luke Gordon. At the front, Andrew Skeet directed from his keyboard. Between them sprawled not so much a chamber orchestra as a scaled-down symphonic ensemble: brass, timpani, harp - the works. The venue was packed, and the mix of drum'n'bass sounds, jazz moods and classical orchestration pleased the crowd.

As a début for The Orchestra, a group set up to make links with contemporary culture, it was confident, even slick. The grooves were varied, the beats clearly projected, the live instruments well balanced against them and tidily scored. Any mishaps were successfully hidden: the only let-down came after an hour, when the atmosphere had built up and the performance abruptly ended. Of the 20 musicians, the dominant player was Spacer. Skeet created his share of the material, but the evening's two pieces for orchestra alone lacked the urgency that entered as soon as the producer's sounds came into play. Then the classical instruments fell into place. Essentially they were a way to play live the parts that are usually sampled, and most of the ingenuity went into making that role work.

A few passages took off in their own right, and an intricate, repeating texture in one of the later tracks could only have come from a practised orchestrator's ear. Mostly The Orchestra was the passive partner, inhibited and score-bound when it came to solos, and in the face of the driving energy at the centre, it behaved the way orchestras are expected to behave.

It's a paradox, or maybe a parable. Here is the most limitless reservoir of live sounds that Western music has invented, a spur to the artistic imagination for centuries. Yet the real creativity came from the new media. The Orchestra has been talking itself up for a while; only a couple of months ago it said its début would be a video-linked spectacular of "360-degree music", with 50 musicians spread through the Round House and the audience wandering about. But it also says it's at the start of a musical adventure. What it needs now is to loosen up the way it uses its resources, bring in other composers' perspectives and draw out the ideas of performers and sound technicians.

Then it just may find a way out of the classical museum culture. So why was the orchestral establishment not out in force? Afraid of getting dirty? You wait: in five years' time, orchestras will be scrambling to latch on, too late for credibility with the young public they crave, just as they are now with folk and world fusions. By then contemporary music will have moved on. The Orchestra could be keeping up with it.

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